The film wins big Oscar buzz after its premiere in Los Angeles

By Abby Stern
November 13, 2014 09:50 PM
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Get ready to see more of Oprah this Oscar season! She produced and costars in Selma, a film about about Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1965 march for voting rights – and the movie (out Christmas Day) is winning big buzz after its first screening this week.

But it wasn’t the easiest film to pull off – starting with casting one of the most important figures of the 20th century.

Star David Oyewelo “is the reason I came on board,” Winfrey told the audience during a Q&A after the film’s premiere at the AFI Fest in Hollywood.

“David and I became fast friends when we did The Butler together and he told me that this had been his dream for a very long time.”

“I was putting my two cents in all the time and then they said ‘Why don’t you just join us as a producer?’ ” she said. But even having a powerhouse media mogul like Winfrey involved didn’t mean that production was smooth sailing.

One challenge? The heat in Atlanta (where the film was shot) combined with the period wardrobe.

“[There were] hundreds and hundreds of extras wearing wool clothes in 104-degree heat walking across that bridge again and again and again,” Winfrey said. Despite being uncomfortable, Winfrey and everyone making the film had a strong sense of purpose, she added.

“People were there doing it because they felt, first of all that they were a part of something that was bigger than they.”

Aside from the heat, another uncomfortable situation arose when the film’s crew had to ask some of the white extras to scream racial slurs at the actors to convey the racial tension of the time.

Winfrey said at one point: “I remember one woman saying, ‘You really want me to say it out loud? You want me to say that word out loud?’ ”

Oyewelo gives all the credit for turning the movie into a reality to Winfrey – along with Brad Pitt, whose company Plan B also produced the film.

“This is how you use power that has been afforded you,” Oyewelo said. “To get things done that otherwise wouldn’t be.”

David Oyewelo
Danny Moloshok/Reuters/Landov

For more on Selma and the other biggest movies of the holiday season, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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